3. Harper’s Magazine: Eating the Whale
I didn’t think I would read this essay in one sitting, hanging onto every word—but that is exactly what I found myself doing after the first few sentences. This story, according to its sub-headline is “a personal history of meat” in which Wyatt Williams writes about his journey to Alaska to try whale. It is also a story entwined with colonization, as Williams flew as far north as Alaska Airlines would fly—to Barrow, although “In the fall, the town would vote to change the name back to Utqiaġvik. The place had been known by that name (or something like it) for hundreds of years prior, long before white whalers and explorers started showing up and naming things after themselves.”
Williams was interested in questions such as, “Why do we kill animals and why do we eat them? Is it right or wrong? What constitutes ethical behavior in a godless world?” He ends up writing about lineage and the quest to understand.
I found lots of moments here that could be extracted and applied to topics I’m interested in—namely design, and specifically branding. Of all the words I hung onto reading this, the following really has stuck with me:
“This is what happens when you want to understand, when you try to know everything you can know. It is a beautiful temptation, to collect from the world and arrange it so that the collection reduces the world around it, so that things around us that were once unexplainable and unknowable can now be seen clearly with a single glance. This is what maps, museums, books, and farms try to do. They try to make the world comprehensible. They organize nature. This is what I wanted to do, I suppose. The trouble is that the world isn’t reducible in that way, it can’t be understood at a glance. It can’t be made a single inch smaller than it is. Yet we insist on trying to understand. It is a simple, human desire. We keep adding to our arrangements, to our museums, animal after animal, bone after bone, until there’s no more room. What’s left behind isn’t as big as the world, and somehow much smaller than the mystery that surrounds it. The failed collections of broken men. Dim rooms full of junk.”